13 Hungarian Poems Fit for a Funeral or Memorial Service

Updated

Hungarian funeral poetry is a very specific classification of poetry. While we were able to find several pieces that fit this genre, you might want to peruse "Light Within the Shade," a collection that features 800 years of Hungarian poetry that has been translated into English.

Jump ahead to these sections:

Here are some pieces that are featured in the collection, as well as other Hungarian poems. 

Hungarian Funeral Poems for a Parent or Grandparent

Funeral poetry doesn't have to be about death, grief, or the afterlife. Instead, when choosing a funeral poem for your mom's service (or a funeral poem for your dad), you may want to select a piece that was meaningful to them in life. For that reason, we will include a wide variety of poetry on our list. 

How do you find poetry that your loved one connected with or enjoyed? Look for poetry collections in your loved one's possessions. You might find a poem hanging on their mirror, stuck in a scrapbook, or stacked in a pile of important papers. 

Funeral poems are much more meaningful if they were beloved by the deceased. 

1. "And I Am Not a Hungarian?" by Endre Ady

The characteristics of a Hungarian are discussed in this poem. This might be the right fit if your loved one was proud of their Hungarian roots.

2. "Mother" by Sandor Marai 

The speaker reflects on the lines that have appeared on his mother's face. The poem begins:

"What a secret hand causes to be written: 
the woven features of your softened face 
are a knotty, faded piece of writing;
I look at it and the letters start falling into place:
what is it that the years and life inscribed? 
This is myself, this is my fate, also,
this deep line on your brow:"

3. “Mother” by Attila Juzsef

This poem begins, 

"For a week now, again and again,
Thoughts of my mother have racked my brain.
Gripping a basket of washing fast,
On, and up to the attic she passed.
And I was frank and released my feeling
In stamps and yells to bring down the ceiling.
Let someone else have the bulging jackets,
Let her take me with her up to the attic."

4. "You Are a Sign on My Doorpost" by Ágnes Gergely

The poet reflects on the death of her father in this poem. It ends with the following lines:

"I keep on seeing you;
under that strangling November sky
I'm with you as you start, you're breathing and it's you,
your tears that choke my throat, I leave them as they are,
and up above, there where it flew,
that slender cigarette knocked out of your mouth
burns eighteen years now on a star."

Hungarian Funeral Poems for a Sibling

Saying goodbye to a brother or sister is never an easy task. Here are some Hungarian poems you might consider for a sibling's funeral.

5. "Question At Night" by Mihály Babits

Mihály Babits's poetry is known for its "intense religious themes." He also wrote short stories, novels, and translated Dante's work. Babits died of cancer in August 1941. 

6. “Forest” by László Lator

The concept of the afterlife is questioned in this piece of poetry translated by George Szirtes. The poem includes the following lines:

"Or maybe the forest simply tells us what
we need to hear to quench the spirit's thirst?
How else could it struggle with the worst
life offers us and still emerge intact?

"No, says the forest, there's no resurrection
and wild rejoicing: everything within
the body or beyond it faces the same corruption,
our flesh, our very cells are paper thin."

7. “Funeral Oration for the Falling Leaves” by Sándor Reményik

This piece was translated into English by Peter V. Czipott and John M. Ridland. Leaves are given a voice in this poem. The leaves say they are at home as they drop to the Earth. However . . . 

"My brethren, only one thing orphans us:
To be outside our forest home
Without a homeland, or a home,
Being windswept to and fro
Across the cobblestones of a cold, unfriendly city,
Commingled with all sorts of litter."

Hungarian Funeral Poems for a Spouse or Partner

You might consider searching for romantic Hungarian poetry to find a piece to help you say goodbye to your spouse or partner. Here are a few pieces that might be suitable. However, you may want only to share a portion of the poetry if the work is too long or the theme doesn't fit the occasion.

8. "Ode" by Attila József

This lengthy poem speaks of the speaker's love and longing for a woman. It is a tale of heartbreak, but perhaps a portion could be used. There are a variety of translations available.

Here's one portion of the piece:

"Moments pass by, rattling
but you are sitting mutely in my ears.
Stars blaze and fall
but you stand still in my eyes.
Like silence in a cave,
your flavour, now cool,
still lingers in my mouth
and your hand upon the waterglass
and the delicate veins upon your hand
glimmer up before me again and again."

9. “Canticle” by Miklós Radnóti

This poem ends with the following stanza:

"evelight as it glows
on your eyelid's close,
rock me in your arms,
your body opening,
O blessing in life's war,
smile hidden at the core,
who shall among my bones,
anciently whitening
on the cold earth's stones,
hide you forevermore."

10. “À La Recherche …” by Miklós Radnóti

The poet is "in search of lost time" as he reflects on life's events. In this stanza, he remembers a night at an inn long ago.

"Where is that night, that inn, that table under the lindens,
and where are the living, where the trampled in battle?
My heart hears their voices, my hand preserves their hands' pressure,
I summon their lines; their proportions loosen, I seek
their measure (dumb prisoner), here on the sad heights of Serbia."

Hungarian Funeral Poems for a Child

How do you say goodbye to your child? Finding the right words may feel impossible. 

11. "Against the Tide" by József Kiss

The analysis of this poem states that Jozsef Kiss wrote about the rising tide of antisemitism in Hungary that went back to the last 1880s. The final stanza of this poem reads:

"Be dim, you lovely shining stars:
My little boy's sweet closing eyes!–
Why twinkle in such nights as ours?
The day that starlight testifies
Against me too, you'll realize
In burning tears and fruitless cries
What you inherit as my son,
My beautiful, my little one!"

Hungarian Funeral Poems for a Friend

Some families reach out to the friends of the deceased to ask if they would like to offer a tribute or read a poem. In some cases, the family may provide the poem. At other times, they may leave this task to you. Here are some Hungarian poems to consider. 

Of course, as a courtesy, you might ask for their approval once you have selected a piece. 

12. "One Thought Troubles Me" by Sandor Petofi

Please understand that this isn't an uplifting funeral poem. However, if your loved one died in battle, this might be an appropriate poem for the situation.

The speaker in "One Thought Troubles Me" says that they hope not to "pass pillowed in bed away" like a "fading flower." Instead, they wish death to be

"As the tree by lightning blasted
Or by the storm uprooted and smashed,
Let me be as the crag that battering thunder
Hurls from the heights into the depths asunder . . . "

13. “Cservenka” by Miklós Radnóti

We included this piece not because of the theme but because of the amazing story of how it was found. This is one of the 10 poems inscribed in Radnóti's address book found in the pocket of his raincoat when his mass grave was exhumed in 1946. Radnóti was Jewish and was being marched toward a Nazi death camp.

"At nine kilometers: the pall of burning  
hayrick, homestead, farm.
At the field's edge: the peasants, silent, smoking
pipes against the fear of harm.
Here: a lake ruffled only by the step
of a tiny shepherdess,
where a white cloud is what the ruffled sheep
drink in their lowliness."

Saying Goodbye to Your Hungarian Loved One

It's a considerable challenge to plan a funeral for a loved one from a different culture. If this is your task, consider reaching out to the Hungarian community in your nearest metropolitan area for assistance. You may also receive help from the elders of the family who may have immigrated directly from Hungary.

As you plan your loved one's funeral, search through their belongings for any funeral plans that may have been left behind. Some older adults choose to keep such plans close to their hearts, especially if they think discussing them would cause stress to their families.


Source:
  1. “Light Within a Shade: 800 Years of Hungarian Poetry.” Translated by Zsuzsanna Ozsvath and Frederick Turner. Syracuse University Press. 2014. Google.com

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